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All we are saying, is give youth a chance

April 2, 2012

A country or a society that does not recognise, nurture and harness the potential of its young people has no future, it is a fact that youth bring hope and change, shaping what can be, looking forward. The idea of the youth being the energy and a regenerative force in society cannot be ignored as there are certain perceptions and views expressed by society about its youth, where they are seen as a metaphor of optimism, revolution and rejuvenation. A contradictory image of youth which is commonly expressed, is one filled with problems and instability.

Whatever these views and perceptions are, it is at a young age that the foundation for taking society to a higher level of development is laid. My daughter Katie, 17, and son James, 21, give me hope and inspiration for the future with their attitude and exuberance everyday – whilst their appetite and hunger for everything in the App Store (i-this, i-that, i-another) gives me hope and inspiration for my future when they’re off my payroll (only joking J&K).

Unfortunately, despite rhetoric from Cameron & Osborne, our public institutions and structures seem not to create a conducive atmosphere for young people to unleash their hidden potential. Opportunities are not created for young people who are creative and forceful and if opportunities are available, they based on the politics of short-termism with public funded programmes seemingly designed to cleanse the conscience of those in power. I see no vision or strategy with innovative, disruptive thinking, nor genuine desire with well thought through investment plans, to change culture and create genuine opportunity. Where are the inventive solutions signposting youths’ long-term direction?

A practical example is when a young person with a business idea or plan approaches a financial institution for support. Demands are made for huge personal collateral security before granting the request, but the financial institutions are aware that the collateral will not be provided due to a lack of resources. This is a serious form of ostracism.

An even greater problem is when an outlet or audience for youth expression is not created. Those who do not want to grant the youth an audience to express their ideas confound the problem.  The truth is that there is a clear difference between performance and potential. You can judge someone by his or her performance, but you cannot judge his potential. It is hidden until an avenue is created for the person to unleash their talent.

I believe it’s time for those in a position of power and responsibility to create a platform for young people to reach their maximum potential. Let’s develop the habit of motivating our young folks and create infrastructures to support their initiatives – but bring a 20-year horizon to the thinking, not a short-term tick-box mentality. This Government have deflected their lack of sincere moral commitment with short-term financial pledges failing to recognise that in many ways, the future of our country rests with young people, like James and Katie. Their ability, vision, commitment, enthusiasm, skills and ambition to manage, change and grasp opportunities must be encouraged, not discouraged.

But we now know their focus is more on secretive political fund-raising dinners than wanting to make a difference for our young generation. If our leaders, policy makers, and society at large believe that the youth are our future, then it’s time to invest in them for the long-term. As Nick Clegg said recently, being Neet is a tragedy for the young people involved and a ticking time bomb for the economy and our society, when he announced a £126m funding package which will offer for the first time individual, tailored support to 16 & 17 year-olds who are not in education, employment or training (‘Neets’).

This problem isn’t new, but in the current economic climate we urgently need to step up efforts to ensure our most troubled teenagers have the skills, confidence and opportunities to succeed. Clegg’s move forms part of the £1bn Youth Contract launched last November, which aims to lift young people out of unemployment – the rate is now 20%+ – with more than one million 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK currently unemployed.

Work experience and training for young people at a cost of £1bn. Sounds familiar? Well, it is, that was the description of the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) launched back in 1983, but that £1bn was in 1983 prices. Leap forward to 2011 and the coalition Governments scheme has some similarities, but its £1bn will clearly not go as far as the YTS money nearly 20 years ago.

The principle of paying an employer a wage subsidy is another common theme, so too the number of places available. Gordon Brown’s ‘New Deal’ employment option also involved subsidies for employers. So how successful were these previous schemes? The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion argues that subsidies have tended to have very low take-up.  It also points to research suggesting th. But the Centre says evidence from the United States reveals success in transitional job schemes for those furthest from the labour market.

The Youth Contract is aimed at private sector opportunities. The aim is to match people up with employers who might go on to offer them real jobs. The drawback is that it depends on the willingness of private sector companies to step forward. At a time of economic uncertainty, that may not be as straightforward as ministers hope. And of course, the situation is uneven, with us folks living in the North suffering more than the Beautiful South, so potentially this just widens the demographic trends further.

I’ll step down from my soapbox, but I find it depressing how the national electorate can be hoodwinked by political shenanigans and empty rhetoric from a Government shirking its moral and political leadership responsibilities. It’s not all about budgets and austerity cuts, its about what sort of society you want to live in, but of course, we know the answers to that coming from the Bullingdon Club Old Boys as they fib about their VAT-category pasty eating habits.

It’s really only obliquely related to some of the stuff above, but there’s something heart warming in the success this season of Burnley FC’s Youth Team to openly celebrate and counter the glumness I’ve expressed and feel about Youth opportunity.

Burnley have gone out of the FA Youth Cup at the semi-final stage this week against our bitterest rivals Blackburn Rovers. Having lost the first leg at Ewood 0-1 last week we were beaten again, 1-2 at Turf Moor. A Steven Hewitt penalty a few minutes from the end was our only reward. It was the least we deserved from the two legs, although overall any fair judge would say the better team have gone through. Blackburn scored twice early in the second half on Wednesday to virtually put an end to the tie but you had to admire the way we kept going when all looked lost. They lifted their heads again, very much kept their discipline, and continued to play some decent football.

There were 10,000 home supporters on the Turf, and Shay McCartan’s storming run at the start of the second half gave the crowd something to shout about. Despite the teams’ efforts – with special mention for man-of-the-match Aryn Williams, Cameron Howieson, a Kiwi from Dunedin, and Steven Hewitt, it wasn’t to be.

To put this into context, Blackburn are a Premiership Academy team, fuelled and funded by the rich financial resources this status brings, whilst Burnley are a Centre of Excellence, playing games on picturesque pitches at Gawthorpe, nestling in the countryside outside Burnley near the Gawthorpe National Trust estate.

It was the hunger, determination, enthusiasm and passion of the Burnley youth that made you proud to be a Claret. After the first of the Rovers goals I saw players encouraging each other. When the second went in I feared the heads might drop and we could take a heavy defeat. Not on your life; they kept at it and were finally rewarded with the penalty for a clear handball.

Blackburn were big, strong, pretty quick and very aggressive – and dare I say it – wise to the cynical side of professional football. Judging by the size of their players I think Venky’s genetically modified chicken also had something to do with it. Fortunately, our lads are all proper players, but they’re slight, when one of our subs came on I thought he was a mascot.

It wasn’t just about Aryn, Shay, Cameron or Steven on the night, or all season, it’s about the whole youth squad who have taken us a lot further than any of us hoped. On the night, we were:

Burnley: Josh Cook, Aryn Williams, Alex Coleman, Jack Errington, Luke Conlan, Luke Gallagher (sub: Jason Gilchrist 68), Steven Hewitt, Archie Love (sub: Luke Daly 82), Cameron Howieson, Shay McCartan, Adam Evans. Subs not used: Callum Jakovlevs, Charlie Holt, Alex Mullin.

No one could have envisaged wins against Ipswich, West Brom and Fulham in previous rounds, but that’s what they did. They’ll have their heads down now, no doubt disappointed that the adventure is over. They’ve no need to have heads bowed though, they can stand heads up and proud of what they’ve achieved this season. So its hats off to Terry Pashley and Andy Farrell who lead the Youth coaching set-up, and to the Burnley FC Directors for investing in youth. If only others could follow this example.

At a point in the season when the first team have been struggling for form, they’ve captured the imagination of fans and given us something to shout about. I’ve long since given up predicting which young players will make it, but you derive great satisfaction from watching your youth team and daring to dream about the future.

But back to the bigger picture. Much education today is monumentally ineffective, all too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels – if youth only knew, if age only could – but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young, and all that it entails for the individual, and society.

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